Duncan Holland writes;
Simon Barnes who writes on sport and nature for the Times is one of my favourites. His pieces often look behind the obvious and trite and he frequently sees beauty and poetry in sport. He shares my lifelong fascination for sports and sports people and I usually agree with him; not this time though!
Friday’s Barnes piece begun ‘The worst decision sport ever made was to start testing for drugs.’ The piece went on to lucidly and logically argue why this was true. He ignores though, the best argument for trying to keep sport drug free.
Organised sport, sport with rules, is an artificial construct, it is a very human endeavour. If the only goal of a game was to win we wouldn’t stick to the rules, the concept of cheating wouldn’t exist. The whole point is that the participants accept some arbitrary rules and play within them, test themselves against the situation as well as against the opposition. Some of the rules are about physical things, the size of the pitch, the weight of the ball; some are about the human side, the forms of behaviour, and the actions that are and aren’t allowed. The rules of a sport define in a very real, as well as metaphorical way, the playing field. One of the fundamental ideas of sport is that all participants shall have an equal chance, that the playing field shall be level. The very idea of cheating is wrapped up in the definition of the sport. There are no rules in a fight to the death.
Within this agreed arena, this playing field, the essence of the game is the contest between the players. Human beings are not born equal, each brings a unique genetic mix to the game. The core of sport, what turns a game into something bigger and worthwhile, is people trying to wring the maximum performance from the limited potential they have. Sometimes one of us is able to transcend our potential and then we have a magical moment, one of those sporting moments that can illuminate the darkness of a mundane daily existence. Think of Waddell in Sydney, Hemery in Mexico, Redgrave in Athens. The true drama and beauty of these sporting moments was the in the struggle of the hero to transcend his limitations.
Drug taking in sport is cheating because it alters the very nature of the players. Each of us is dealt a genetic hand, a body and brain that is our equipment to take on the world with. A drug taker has altered his or her body, altered the limits within which the game should be played. If the players don’t accept the rules then sports become pointless self-gratification and circus acts.
At its best sport can show us some of the glory of being human. Great sportspeople can illuminate the struggle to rise above our limitations and conquer ourselves as we struggle to reach our goals. That is why I am watching the Beijing Games.